Emotive pieces reign at Jamaica Dance Umbrella festival night one

Long after the final curtains were drawn at the first show night of the Jamaica Dance Umbrella (JDU) Festival on Friday, attendees were still huddled in groups outside the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA) at the University of the West Indies, Mona, impassioned about the diverse, emotive pieces presented by eight entities.

Among the intimate crowd was the all-male, four-member Guadeloupe group, Mounka, whose meticulous and masterful Biosphere performance was deserving of the standing ovation it received.

Human clock

Choreographed by hip hop dancer, José Bertogal, the piece pulled from a three-part series which uses the body to recount the evolution of mankind and the universe, with much emphasis on the concept of time. Though the audio experience was rooted in the ‘tick-tock’ sound of a clock, the performance was not rushed, and the dancers, clad in variations of grey, personified different elements of time and evolution, even creating a human clock, with one dancer, legs together, swinging like a pendulum to the astonishment of the audience.

“It’s our first time in Jamaica, and it was very good seeing how the audience reacted to us,” said Mounka member Michael Larifla. “It was also very good to stay afterwards and see the traditional dance, very amazing.”

Standout piece

One such standout was Rex Nettleford’s 1971 Kumina piece, performed by the JDU’s 2020 honouree, the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC). The signature piece debuted on the Philip Sherlock stage and sustained its ‘Kumina King and Queen’ narrative with live Bailo music, spirited drumming (and catta sticks), whirling skirts, synchronised diagonals and other African retentions.

The penultimate performance, with actor Desmond Dennis and dancer Andrew Bailey, proved to be a masterful collaboration which placed guests front and centre at the trial of a “ghetto youth”, whose rage drives him to murder his spouse, a timely piece in light of the increased domestic murders haunting Jamaica in recent years. As Dennis pleads his case by justifying his actions based on his father’s fierce, bloody love for his mother, Bailey recounted the story with intense moves, providing the visuals for the anguish, choking, crawling, sobbing and build up to Dennis’ plight.

Colourful and uptempo

Another intense piece came from soloist Stefanie Takei-Taylor, who impressed at last year’s staging as part of the Barbados Dance Project. Performing Trinidadian-American Pearl Prime’s 1943 Strange Fruit, the dancer delineated the inhumane lynching in Southern United States in the pre-civil era, from exploring the bulging eyes and twisted mouth of black bodies swinging against blood-stained leaves, to the crows flying around the burnt corpses ready to devour the ‘strange fruit’.

The 12th staging of JDU continued its inclusion of other regions with the University of the Cayman Islands delivering two colourful and uptempo pieces with the help of choreographer Dr Monika Lawrence.

DanceWorks paid homage to late veteran member of the NDTC, Barry Moncrieffe, with a sorrowful yet beautiful piece, accompanying a background of slow-changing visuals of his life in theatre.

See highlights from the event in the gallery below.

Fervent waistlines

Melancholy was also the feel of Dance Theatre Xaymaca’s Until November Ends, choreographed by Reneè McDonald. The troupe also delivered Onaje Bell’s lively Taino Memoirs piece, which featured live drumming, fervent waistlines, zestful spins, awe-inspiring leaps and satisfying grunts.

BEAM’s all female-outfit also performed, serving up spunk, sparks, fierce moves, confidence and girl power on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall.

The festival was also held on Saturday at the PSCCA with performances by groups including the Movements Dance Company, the University Dance Society, QUILT, Stella Maris Dance Ensemble and Vickers Dance Studio. JDU ended on Sunday at the same venue featuring groups like The ASHE Company, L’Acadco, Company Dance Theatre and Stefanie Takei-Taylor.